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Translation Tuesday: Self-portrait 1 / Autorretrato 1 (Tove Ditlevsen) – arkbooks
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Translation Tuesday: Self-portrait 1 / Autorretrato 1 (Tove Ditlevsen)

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Translation Tuesday is an on-going series of translations focused on contemporary Scandinavian literature. In this edition of Translation Tuesday, Sheri and Neus have translated Tove Ditlevsen’s “Self-portrait 1” into English and Spanish.

Tove Irma Margit Ditlevsen (1917-1976) is one of the most important and unique voices of 20th Danish literature and a household name in Denmark. Born and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Vesterbro, Copenhagen, she has written more than thirty books of poetry, novels, short stories, and memoirs, many of which deal with autobiographical material: her childhood in Vesterbro, her struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, her failed marriages, and her time in psychiatric institutions and rehabilitation centers. While Ditlevsen’s writings are and have been widely popular in Denmark, her work has been largely disregarded by the academic community as confessional writing until recently. In the past few years, in fact, she has been revived as an important figure both for Danish literature and feminism. Many of her works have been reprinted and the contemporary author perhaps most responsible for her revival, Olga Ravn, has compiled and edited new collections of her essays and poetry. Little of Ditlevsen’s work, however, has been translated into English and much of what has been is now out of print.

For some background reading on Ditlevsen’s past and present reception in Denmark, check out Sheri’s article on the topic from earlier this year. 



I can’t:
wear hats
be a good hostess
pick out jewelry
arrange flowers
remember appointments
say thank you for gifts
leave the right tip
keep a man around
feign interest
at parent-teacher meetings.

I can’t
eating chocolate
stealing umbrellas
sleeping in
forgetting to remember
and to clean my nails.
Pretending to agree
with people
telling secrets
weird places
and psychopaths.

I can:
be alone
do the dishes
read books
make sentences
and be happy
without feeling guilty.  



No puedo:
hacer la comida
llevar sombrero
pasar un buen rato con otra gente
llevar joyas
hacer un ramo de flores
acordarme de mis citas
agradecer regalos
dar la propina correcta
mantener a un hombre
mostrar interés
en las reuniones de padres.

No puedo
dejar de:
comer chocolate
robar paraguas
dormirme por las mañanas
olvidarme de acordarme de
y limpiarme las uñas.
Pretender que estoy de acuerdo
con otra gente
revelar secretos
sitios extraños
y psicópatas.

estar sola
lavar los platos
leer libros
escribir frases
y ser feliz
sin sentirme culpable.


The poem Selvportræt 1 is published by permission of Gyldendal. Translation copyright © 2018 by Sherilyn Hellberg and Neus Casanova Vico.

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